Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wide Right

Among the many things accomplished on Momentous Monday was taking Grace to the DMV for her learner's permit exam, which she passed.  She is the first of my children to be motivated to learn to drive. Indeed, Ian and Brigid still do not have their driver's licenses.
Grace, however, is eager to drive. Our only car is a stick shift, and before the permit, I had rashly declared that it was probably best to learn straight off on a stick shift, but when the moment came, I wasn't so confident.  A friend, who happened to be at our house, generously offered his car, so Grace and I had our first driving experience together in an automatic.  Thank goodness, because there's enough to think about when you drive for the first time, (like locating the brake pedal) without worrying about shifting gears.

We drove several laps of the parking lot at Monticello High School, and by the end of the session, Grace successfully stopped, reversed and made some right turns, albeit with a super-sized margin between the car and the curb.  I'd forgotten how difficult it is to steer when you're not used to it. 

I read somewhere that Canadians make fun of Buffalo by referring to the "wide right" and in my ignorance, I assumed they meant we make clumsy right turns.  Actually, they're referring to a disastrous Super Bowl kick, but I think the driving reference is apt as well. We considered Canadians to be fanatically aggressive drivers, and I've driven on the QEW enough to know that this reputation is well deserved.  There's nothing like a car with Ontario plates racing up behind you, flashing its headlights, to put a spring in your step.

Where was I? So Charlottesville is a terrible place to learn to drive a stick because of its steep hills, congested traffic, and some of the stupidest drivers north of Jacksonville.  Mr. Jefferson may have been far-sighted, but he didn't predict that future students to his University would each come equipped with his or her own Ford Excursion.

I had to teach myself to drive a stick shift.  I had just bought my first car, against my parents' wishes. (My father's exact words were, "I absolutely forbid you to buy that car.")  I paid $250 for it and my brother drove it home for me.  He promised to get up early the next morning and teach me how to drive on my way into school, but when the time came, he refused to get out of bed.  Meanwhile, I had to get to school. This was when--Buffalo people do you remember this?--the Kensington expressway was closed to inbound traffic and we all had to drive Kensington Avenue, which was bumper-to-bumper all the time, with a traffic light every twenty feet for seven miles.  I drove that car to school, dammit, and then I drove it home again that evening and drove it every day after that.  Talk about learning the hard way!

Last night, Grace and I practiced using the clutch pedal and moving the stick in and out of the gears.  Tonight we have ambitious plans to actually propel the car forward and maybe even shift up into second gear.  If you have tips on teaching someone to drive stick shift, don't be shy, please share them here.  Also, if you are so inclined, please say a prayer for my transmission.


  1. I, too, had a trial by fire learning to drive standard experience. Luckily, I already had my license, so I had the basics of stop, go, turn and park down. But, it didn't exempt me from a few close calls with that darn clutch and whiplash.

    Patience and a sense of humor are required. Yoga style deep breathing is also recommended as I recall from helping teach Lizzy.

    Good luck!

  2. Good luck.

    My mother bought me a stick shift and told me I was on my own. I was driving in downtown Baltimore and surprised to figure out that the roads leading out of downtown are all uphill. Needless to say, I got the hang of the clutch in rushhour city traffic in a hurry.

  3. I had to drive with the radio off so I could hear the engine when I learned to drive standard. Also, having a tachometer helps; I don't know if your car has one.

    I live in fear of my children wanting to learn to drive and ruining my transmission.

  4. I have never learned to drive a stick shift, and after navigating the world for 49 years with automatics, I don't think I'll bother :-)

    Good luck to you!

  5. Let her stall hard once or twice right away so that she's not afraid of what happens. I love a stick shift!

  6. Oh, the pain, the screeching, the bad language, the angst, and that's just the learner.

    Best of luck Jen.

    Here's something you might like.

  7. I am sure your daughter is blooming. It must be a very exciting time for her.

  8. Will pray.
    If you can drive stick, you can drive anything. To that end, I taught my girlfriend's daughter to drive stick on my old Honda Accord back when I was in college. We went out on country roads and when she screwed up a Y-turn on the road and rolled into the ditch, the car was light enough to push out!

  9. here the stick shift is....certainly was..... the norm and I well remember my instructor....a fireman.... clinging to the door as I took a roundabout in 4th and was too terrified to take my hand off the wheel and change down so just rode the clutch and powered on through without stalling it....he said I might consider driving fire trucks!!

  10. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I learned to drive on a stick and on my first solo trip outside the immediate neighbourhood, I stalled the car 9 times in a row at a stop sign. To this day I am impressed that none of the cars behind me honked.